By Vuyi Mpofu
Nothing beats the feeling of riding a motorcycle. They are cool, fun, and fuel-efficient, but the truth is, motorcycles present more risk to the rider than a car does to its driver.
Skilled riders have mastered the art of riding defensively and are better experienced at riding incident-free in traffic, but, with less saddle-time to my name; I have to actively remember and apply the following basic safety practices to ensure that I don’t become an example of a bike versus car accident statistic.
There are ten ways I strive to keep my rides incident-free and here are the first five.
1. Always Wear A Reflective Vest/Jacket
Right from the start of my motorcycle learnership, ‘my little twin sister’, Bongiwe Didiza instilled the importance of wearing a reflective vest. She did such a good job of drilling how being conspicuous in traffic saves lives that now, I only remove my reflective vest when my riding jacket needs to be washed. Of course, wearing a reflective vest is not an accident deterrent but I am confident that it helps me to be more visible to other road users, no matter the time of day or night that I choose to go for a ride.
2. Always Wear Protective Gear
Protective gear is, as the name suggests, designed for your protection. In truth, I am often at odds with myself about wearing all my gear but thankfully, I have a keen sense of self-preservation and it always prevails. Grudgingly, I envy riders who wear flip-flops, shorts, and tee-shirts when it is extremely hot and to them, I must look like a complete dork in my padded pants, jacket, gloves, helmet, and reinforced boots. Yes, protective gear is cumbersome to put on but when I consider the cost of medical bills and repairs to my bike in the event of an accident, riding about looking like an Eskimo in 32°weather, seems like a small sacrifice.
3. Be Aware Of Your Surroundings
All road users need to be vigilant about their surroundings and should not fool themselves into thinking that all motorists will drive defensively around them.
The level of awareness one needs when riding is vastly different from that employed by a driver. As such, it is largely our responsibility as riders, to be aware of the fast-changing traffic environments we find ourselves in and to constantly reposition ourselves so that we have adequate escape routes should a driver fail to see us.
A good sense of awareness allows riders to react timeously and helps get you out of many potentially dangerous situations.
4. Ride Within Your Comfort Zone
I love speed. There, I’ve said it. However, I love being alive and in possession of all my body parts even more. To this end, when it came to selecting a motorcycle, I opted for an adventure bike over a superbike. Don’t get me wrong, some adventure bike brands are really fast but I found that I was more restrained on an adventure bike than I imagined I might be on a superbike.
Also, I had great instructors when I started out, namely Morag Campbell (Open Rider Training) and Chris Ndimande (ADA). Although they tutored me at different times along my learner biking adventure, they both knocked the speed-loving demon out of me right from the get-go and helped me understand the difference between travelling at 100km on a bike versus travelling at 100km in a car.
Learning and sticking to my comfort zone may undoubtedly have irritated those I’ve gone on group rides with in the past, but I am confident about my limits and I continue to unashamedly ride at a speed I am comfortable with. And if you imagine I ride at 60km/hour, don’t; I ride a ‘tad’ faster than that!
5. Understand Large Group Riding Dynamics
Speaking of comfort levels, this confidence came in handy the first (and last) time I ever rode in a large group. Prior to that (mis)adventure, the biggest group I had ever ridden in comprised of a grand total of 4 other riders – all of whom I knew and all of who knew my riding experience. Suffice it to say the riding ‘dynamics’ of those outings didn’t prepare me for riding in a group of over 100 highly excited and mostly egotistical motorcyclists.
On the day of said large group ride, I paid close attention to the rider briefing (think of me as the new kid in class, taking notes on everything the teacher says). As soon as the riding course and rules had been explained, and the marshals had settled into their positions, the ride, which soon turned into a race, began.
Before long, I felt as if I was the only one riding in (solo) formation and sticking to the speed limit. I was appalled at how the ‘friendly’ ride had gone from friendly to frenzy in 0.3 seconds and recognized that I was well out of my depth. Halfway through the ride/race, I saw an exit leading to my neighbourhood and without hesitation, pointed my handlebars in a homewards direction and took a more leisurely ride back home.
Had I tried to keep up with the rest of the group I would have depleted all my fuel and arrived at the halfway point holding my beating heart in one of my gloved hands. That’s not what I had signed up for.
Look out for the second and final instalment of this two-part series which details the other five ways I keep safe when out and about on two wheels.